Saturday, February 9, 2013

Les Stroud Bushman Axe Issues\Conversation with Julia Kalthoff

Last December, we had the opportunity to review Survivorman Les Stroud's cool new Bushman Axe manufactured by one of our favorite axe companies-- Wetterlings of Sweden.

Not long after we posted our review of the Bushman, a reader commented that his brand new Bushman Axe's edge rolled while chopping a softwood log. Not long after this, I also ran into a post over at Bushcraft USA about a Bushman Axe losing its wooden wedge from the top of the handle on the first day of chopping.

Concerned by this news, I took our Bushman review axe out again for another chopping session. Sure enough, the edge rolled on the top of the bit after chopping through a dead Ponderosa Pine:

Normally, we have many months to put an axe through it's paces, but with the Les Stroud axe, we were trying to get the review up in a narrow time frame in order to coincide with its consumer release. This meant a rather brief chopping session in comparison to what we normally do. Unfortunately, this edge issue slipped under our radar until we started hearing about the problem from other sources.

Sadly, these problems seem to be appearing on other Wetterlings products as well, mainly due to heat-treat issues like those affecting the Les Stroud axe. One of our readers, fellow bushcraft blogger OutdoorEnvy, recently had a major failure on his Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe, in which a section of the heel broke cleanly off while chopping.

OutdoorEnvy's broken Wetterlings Axe

After hearing about these issues, I decided to search through the forums at Bushcraft USA and to see if this problem was more widespread. What I found was that this was even more prevalent than I initially thought:

Bushcraft USA: "Broken Wetterlings Axe" "Wetterlings Axe Woes"
Bushcraft USA: "Wetterlings Edge Rolled(several posters mention this same problem) "Wetterlings axe fail...." "I had two Wetterlings fail within 3 times of use"

This spurred me to make phone calls to various online axe retailers to see if there was more to this story. All sources wished to remain anonymous, but the overwhelming response was that Wetterlings began to have heat-treatment issues after it was sold to Gransfors Bruks in 2009. I was told that since that time, the return rate has gone up considerably, and the issues continue to this day in spite of complaints to Wetterlings.

Since I am a huge fan of Wetterlings axes, I was very disturbed by my findings. Luckily for me, I obtained this information just prior to SHOT Show 2013 (which I attended), and was able to arrange a meeting with Wetterlings' CEO Julia Kalthoff. Upon hearing the information I presented to her, Julia seemed very concerned, and she asked me to bring the Les Stroud Bushman Axe (with the rolled edge) to the show so that she could inspect it.

Julia inspecting the Les Stroud Bushman Axe we reviewed

After inspecting the edge, Julia confirmed that it did have some type of heat-treatment issue. For an experiment, she suggested that I re-profile and re-sharpen the edge, and then use it some more to see if the problem continued, and then report back my findings to her. I plan to use the Bushman Axe for a few weeks after this post and then I'll post my findings for both Julia and our readers.

Julia seemed very concerned about Wetterlings quality control issues, and wanted the axe buying community to know that Wetterlings is backing up all of their axes with a lifetime warranty against manufacturer's defects.

She said that if someone has a problem, they should contact the retailer they bought the axe from to get it replaced.

Julia did indicate that they've had to train new workers in order to replace retiring workers since she took over, and that this might have affected quality control, but she said that everything is improving, and she is working diligently to address these problems. After almost four years of these issues, the proof will obviously have to be more than just promises though.

This doesn't appear endemic to all their axes, only a minority of them, so if you have one that works well, keep it and enjoy it- they are some of the best axes out there (in this author's humble opinion).

I can't speak for everyone, but I think it's safe to say that a lot of us in the bushcraft community love Wetterlings axes and hope that these issues will be resolved soon.

Have you had an issue with a Wetterlings Axe that was purchased since 2009? Leave a comment below.

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)


  1. Thanks for the update Jason.  It's good to know they "seem" concerned but we'll see how much by how fast these issues get fixed.  I was a huge Wetterlings fan but am no longer as you know.  They just charge waaay too much for their axes for this kind of widespread problems, and over four years???  This is just an unfortunate let down.  I think they're at a pivotal point here with their company.  The next year or two will tell a lot.

  2. You're welcome Brandon and thanks for the comment. Yeah, I'm hoping they'll get things straightened out too. I'm forwarding this post to Julia and the rest will be up to them.

  3. If anyone is curious as to what an axe should be able to handle, here is the US Forest Service's edge strength test specs:

    US Forest Service Specs: Practical cutting test. The practical cutting test to determine compliance with 3.2.6 shall consist of

    striking hardwood knots of any size a minimum of 10 heavy blows with each cutting edge. After striking a

    minimum of 10 heavy blows, there shall be no evidence of chipping, dulling, or turning over of cutting edges,

    loosening of the handles or wedges, or any other damages to the tool heads or handles.

  4. I have  an older 3lb  and it is my favorite do it a ll axe.I recently acquired a 2 lb 25 inch and it is too early to judge.The 3 is ugly as heck but the edge is perfect even after hitting unseen ground rocks.  It just dulled the edge in that spot. A great axe imo.       The newer one has a thinner v grind on the edge.and over time I will convex the edge. It had a small nick in it from some use. No biggy but I will monitor. I think if they would put a convex edge from the factory  some of the small issues would be fixed.I chop mostly hardwoods and really like the style  Hope this is a small occurence.  I agree with outdoor about the price,value thoughts. Overall i really like the hardness because well you can work longer.thanks 4 posting about it.

  5. I actually got a response from Wetterlings just recently offering to replace my axe for me.  I informed them the retailer replaced it for me but that they had lost me as a future customer.  It's all water under the bridge now.  Just wanted to let you know the update that I did get a response from them. 

    Keep up the good blogging Jason. 

  6. Brandon, appreciate that and thanks for the update concerning Wetterlings' response.


  7. Dear Jason,

    I appreciate
    your interest in Wetterlings axes, thank you for taking your time to evaluate
    our hardening. To avoid further confusion in this matter, I would like to make
    some additional explanations. As I see it, this issue is divided in two different

    1.       Hardening cracks

    2.       Rolling edge on the Bushman Ax

    About the hardening crack

    Who owns
    the company does not have so much to do with the hardening. The same guy that
    have been sharpening and hardening Wetterlings for the last 32 years is still grinding
    and hardening 99% of all our axes. He has hand sharpened and hardened almost
    one million axes in his life. If he is ill or away for some reason, a guy that has
    worked 42 years at Wetterlings is taking his place. This issue that you have
    noticed has nothing to do with untrained staff.

    We keep
    track of all warranty cases and have been very lucky to have extremely low
    traffic in these matters. A normal year for us, we have 0,0019 warranty returns.
    A few months back we noticed a few hardening crack issues, mainly one axe type
    was affected. This autumn 0,0025 % of our axes were replaced because of hardening

    analysis is that one batch must have been bad, probably because of technical
    reasons. That it of course one batch too much. We have taken serious actions to
    avoid this from happening again. We have added an extra quality control routine,
    which is impact test. This allows us to catch a possible hardening crack in the
    factory and avoiding sending it out to a costumer. We have also invested in new
    temperature control equipment and evaluated all routines that are affecting the
    hardness of the axe.

    There is
    also an investigation going on to evaluate if the issue can have been caused by
    material problems. We are discussing with our steel supplier if there can be
    something in their quality control that has failed. They are a well established
    Swedish steel manufacturer and have huge control routines, yet even the best
    can fail so it is worth to evaluate.

    I can
    assure, we have done everything we can to increase the quality control and I am
    sure we are delivering high quality axes you can trust on.

    About the Bushman Ax

    the Bushman Ax, our analysis about the rolling issue is as follows. The axe is
    designed to be a multifunctional tool. The wedge shaped blade makes it good for
    splitting. The broad edge and the long handle make the axe good for felling and
    limbing. Then we made the edge sharp and quite thin and pointy to be used for
    fine carving on green wood.

    There is an
    ongoing discussion inside our company and between the company and the user of
    axes who sharp an axe should be when it is delivered. It is common in the US
    that axes are quite dull when sold and then the axe user has to sharpen the axe
    himself. In Sweden axes normally are very sharp when sold. A sharp and thin
    edge is something to take in to consideration when working with the axe.  If the axe shall be used for harder wood and
    tougher work, it is a good idea to make the edge slightly less pointy (more
    dull) than they are delivered. After getting feedback from different axe users
    in the US, we have decided to make the axe more convex (dull) so the edge is
    more durable in hard dry wood. It will be a little less appropriate for fine carving
    than before but we think that it is better that people can make it more pointy (sharper)
    if they want to use it specifically for fine carving.

    Of course,
    if the fine edge gets worn, it is to be sharpened again. If there is something else
    wrong with the fine edge, this is covered by our life time warranty for
    manufacturing defects. We will replace the axe for a new one.

     Julia Kalthoff




  8. Jason
    I also forgot to mention that bevel angles are important, I bought a Wetterlings Small Forest Axe about 5 years ago, the bevel angle on one cheek was way off Almost flat on one side and too steep on the other. I had to do a huge about of re-profiling to get it right (of course, back then SAW axes were way cheaper than GB's)!

  9. Hello Jason
    Thanks for having the dialogue with Julia at Wetterlings.
    Wetterlings rightly need to take these concerns in earnest as this is a new and expensive axe with a high degree of expectation attached to it.
    As a mentioned in my comments previously, an axe is an axe, not a knife, fine sharp edge is for paring and slicing, not best for striking/chopping. Therefore there will always be a fine line of compromise when creating an edge to suit all the needs of a 'bushman.' 
    I wonder if since GB has taken over they want to keep GB axes as the premium quality, the SAW's as second choice.
    With regard to wedging of hafts, in my experience, on the axes I restore leaving the haft proud of the poll allows some flaring when the wedge is driven home and added security. Variation in the humidity between point of manafacture and the purchasers environment, if drier, will cause some shrinkage and loosening, therefore check and drive in wedge as required.

  10. Thank You for coming here to share your insight about this topic and standing behind your product. It is appreciated greatly by us axe users. Your products have met and or exceeded my expectations and I look forward to more offerings.
    On a side note have your newly designed splitting mauls or axes hit the market yet?
    Thanks oh and I like your axe day event....wish we had something like that in USA

  11. Spiritriver- you're welcome and thanks for the comment.

    Regarding handles coming loose, I think if they are hung right (think Gransfors Bruks axes), then some variation during shipping shouldn't be an issue.

    Axe sharpness- actually, an axe used for any kind of chopping is supposed to be hair-shaving sharp. It's a widely propagated myth that axes are supposed to be dull. Check out our "How Sharp Should Your Axe Be?" article under the Edged Tools tab for more info.



  12. Hi Julia,

    You're welcome and thanks for responding. FYI I shot you an email with my reply to your comment. Our readers certainly appreciate you taking the time to personally post a response here, and I hope that some of the issues were just a bad batch of steel as you mentioned.

    Warm regards,


  13. Thanks for your response Jason
    No, I am not saying axes must be blunt, but if the angle to edge is very fine it will bend, or chip if it is too hard under extreme chopping, I have some old Sami knives that have been batoned, they were bent and chipped, they are, however, top quality steel, extremely sharp. The traditional heavy sami chopping knives are very sharp with a convex edge profile, hence the comment on slicing as opposed to chopping. 
    My father hafted hundreds of axes and adzes in England, coming to the semi arid climate of Kamloops in British Columbia his axe head came loose. Linseed Oil impregnation helps prevent this.
    Best Regards